Sergio Ramos has a far from easy job as defensive duties go, tasked as he is with providing security at the back for Real Madrid and Spain, two of the most attack-minded sides in world football.
Despite the enormity of the challenge, the 27-year-old centre-back appears to have the task perfected, as evidenced by winner’s medals at two UEFA EUROs and one FIFA World Cup™. Moreover, he was included this week in the 2013 FIFA/FIFPro World XI, the fourth time his fellow professionals have named him among the year’s best.
FIFA.com caught up with the Madrid star this week in Zurich, where, in an exclusive and wide-ranging interview, he spoke about his imminent challenges with club and country, the current situation at Madrid and the social problems afflicting his homeland.
FIFA.com: It’s shaping up to be a special year with the various club competitions you’re involved in and the FIFA World Cup in Brazil to cap it all. Does that make it even better?
Sergio Ramos: Yes, of course. It’s set to be great year with a host of challenges and goals to fulfil. I have to give my all to perform at my very best for my country and for Real Madrid, where we’re very much in the running on three fronts (Spanish La Liga, Copa del Rey and UEFA Champions League). We’re duty-bound to fight for those three titles. Of course, being a World Cup year also makes it special. However, another significant date for me is May, when, God willing, I’ll become a father. What more could I possibly ask of life? In that sense I’m really looking forward to 2014.
So first the baby, then another World Cup triumph?
Hopefully it turns out that way. We and the Spanish people have had the great fortune of experiencing a World Cup victory. Achieving it was a difficult task, and so defending it will also be very complicated. There are many teams at a very high level and all of them are out to take the title from us.
The group stage draw has pitted you against the Netherlands, the team you defeated in the Final of South Africa 2010. What went through your mind when you saw their name come up?
A lot of memories. Over the years we’ve faced many different sides, but with the Dutch it’s a bit different because of that Final, which was our first and also our first world title. On paper they’re one of the favourites and can count on players of immense quality. When you see them drawn in your group… well obviously you’re hoping for less challenging opponents, but then again another section with less renowned teams could complicate things for you and also knock you out. You need to have the utmost respect for all the teams there, as to be world champion you have to beat the best sides.
Over the years we’ve faced many different sides, but with the Dutch it’s a bit different because of that Final, which was our first and also our first world title.
Speaking of top sides, Brazil beat you comfortably to win last year’s FIFA Confederations Cup. Did that result surprise you and what’s your take on that game?
You have to face facts sometimes, and they were deserving winners of that game. In that sense, we need to learn from that defeat. Perhaps we didn’t go into match in the best possible manner – physically we mightn’t have been at our peak, while they were on top form, playing very good football. It’s also true they had a numerical advantage (Gerard Pique was sent off in the 68th minute) and that contributed to the margin of defeat. However, we shouldn’t make excuses. They were better than us and deserving of their win. The beauty of football is that you always get a chance to exact revenge, and that spurs you on, although you never know quite when the chance will come. We need to be ready in case we have to face Brazil again, then somehow try to hit them on the break and punish them, something we weren't able to do last year.
In that final you had the misfortune to miss a penalty in the second half. Did you learn anything from that?
The decision as to who takes the penalty is made at the precise moment, depending on the frame of mind of potential players and how confident they’re feeling. I wanted to take responsibility but, in trying to be too precise, was unlucky to see it clip the post. Their keeper held off picking a side, doubtless having seen some of my other kicks (laughs), and I missed. These things happen in football. Some great players have missed from the spot so you just have to put those ones behind you. Of course, you learn from them and it’s all experience, but if the same situation arose tomorrow, I’d step up again without a problem.
As a defender in two attack-minded sides like Real Madrid and Spain, do you find it more of a challenge when you have periods of not being central to the play?
Defensive stability is also one of the keys to a team’s success. In that sense, the rearguard needs to link up really well with midfield and the forwards, so it’s vital to be on the same page, very focused and provide very good cover. That said, sometimes it can feel like you’re missing something when you’re just sitting tight at the back, especially for us players who like to get involved, form part of the attack and get in on goal. Sometimes you just have to limit [your forays], but when your team wins, you feel very satisfied for the work you’ve done to help. When you have a lot of players who carry a big threat going forward, if the defenders joined them in attack, you’d have practically no one left at the back.
I wished for good health for everyone, and for them to keep their hopes and dreams, because no one should deny us happiness. It costs nothing to dream.
Speaking of Madrid, has much changed since Carlo Ancelotti took over from Jose Mourinho?
It wouldn’t be fair to start comparing the two of them, as every coach is an individual with their own philosophy, personality and way of dealing with things. They’re all different. We’ve already had our time with Mourinho, when we had some good times and bad. Ancelotti is someone widely revered for his CV, for everything he’s won and his knowledge of the game. He was also a pro so can put himself in a player’s shoes. In that respect, he creates a lot of chemistry and has a very good relationship with the squad. I think we can learn a great deal from him this season and have a successful year.
Is it hard adapting to a new coach after a long process of working with another?
To be honest, no. All coaches want the same things, that is to win and get the best possible performance from their players. And while it’s not always easy to get on with every player or manage a dressing full of different nationalities, cultures and footballing philosophies, we’re all striving to achieve the same goals. To that extent, adapting shouldn’t be a major problem.
Talking of the squad, are you still the resident DJ in the dressing room?
I’ve had that job for years now (laughs), although perhaps some of the younger lads like Marcelo or Jese are now pushing me out. Nowadays, the ‘kids’ come with their own music, so I do it less and focus on other things. It’s true, though, I always like to have happiness, peace and harmony, and good camaraderie in the dressing room. They're vital in order to be successful.
How big an obsession is it for the club to lift their tenth European crown?
Well, it’s clearly a competition that’s very dear to the club, and it’s been a long time now since we held that title. I’m not sure it’s an obsession but the desire to win it is greater than for any other competition. I think it would be wrong though to let it become an obsession. We need to just take it step by step, like we’ve done in recent years – reaching the semi-final and almost making the final. If we can go all the way, then even better, no? It’s tricky, but Real Madrid are obliged to fight till the death for that trophy.
And finally, what did you wish for on New Year’s Eve a few weeks back?
I’m not the type to ask for too much, especially nowadays with all the economic problems affecting the country. You have to be mindful of that, have a sense of solidarity and adapt to reality. I wished for good health for everyone, and for them to keep their hopes and dreams, because no one should deny us happiness. It costs nothing to dream. That said, it’s impossible to ignore the country’s situation - I have friends who are unemployed and others with many problems. However, with hard work and sacrifice, you can eventually achieve the goals you set yourself.